Even great TV shows aren't great every single week. While "A Truly Fractured Fairy Tale" isn't really a bad episode of "Cupid," there's a part of me that just wants to skip over it and move straight to talking about "First Loves" and then "Meat Market" (two of the series' highlights). Still, I resolved to talk about each and every episode, so talk about each and every episode we shall.
"Fairy Tale" does some interesting things -- it's the first time Trevor fails to make a love connection, the first time Claire is unequivocally right and Trevor's absolutely wrong, and I really liked the design of the secret admirer's fairy tale gifts -- but overall it doesn't quite come together.
Sooner or later, the show needed to do an episode where Trevor's metaphorical arrow missed its target, both to keep things unpredictable and to give Claire some credibility when she clashes with him in the future. The problem, I think, is that the Couple of the Week and their dilemma aren't that interesting.
Valerie (Kate Hodge) is a regular at Claire's singles support group, and in the middle of a slow session admits to having a crush on the model in a Marlboro Man-style billboard across the street from her office window. Trevor wants to fix her up with her dream man, model/teacher Scott (Robert Mailhouse), but Claire warns that the reality of the man will never live up to the fantasy of the billboard...
...which is exactly what happens, with a minimum of twists and turns. Turns out Scott's not the rugged nature lover he plays in the ad -- "The closest I get to the outdoors is a John Denver album" -- and despite Trevor's attempt to make him embrace his inner outdoorsman, including a horseback riding date where he makes an impromptu save of Valerie when her horse goes wild, it's not for him. Claire helps Valerie realize the attraction has less to do with the man than the way he represents the Montana home she left behind, and so Valerie decides to return to the country, single but more fulfilled.
It's a really straightforward story, and one where Claire's initial concern is so obvious that I can't imagine anyone but the most hardcore of Cupidians seeing that she has a point and Trevor is setting these two up for failure. No real stakes -- the relationship doesn't work out, but neither party seems that hurt by it -- and none of those magical moments that the series does so well. In an episode whose chief theme is the difference between the fantasy and the reality, this story had too much of the latter and almost none of the former. That may have been the point, but it's not that interesting to watch.
The other story, in which a secret admirer gives Claire one lavish fairy tale-inspired present after another, is almost all fantasy. In many ways, it's more whimsical than the song-and-dance plot from "Heaven... He's in Heaven," complete with David Johansen returning as Zeus the Bum to provide fairy tale-style narration. (In the end, we find out that he's simply reading from Claire's latest column, a payoff that doesn't quite work; in retrospect, none of what Zeus reads aloud sounds like the sort of thing I could imagine Claire writing in that context, even having just had this strange experience.)
Like I said above, I really dug the creation of the various gifts: a spinning wheel (Rumpelstiltskin), the golden egg (Jack and the Beanstalk?), the frog (Frog Prince), etc. And, as we discover at the end of the episode, Trevor slipped a letter P scrabble tile into Claire's couch cushions to keep her from sleeping on it (Princess and the P? Get it?).
The actual resolution to the story is fairly slight -- the gifts were intended for a woman who used to live in this apartment (I'm assuming she was the previous tenant and not Claire's ex-roommate, or else the guy would know Claire), and after resisting the concept of fairy tale love all episode, Claire gives the guy his dream woman's contact info -- but the interesting part to me is how Trevor responds to all of this. Even though he's normally pro-fantasy and Claire is anti, he's the one trying to convince her that these presents are coming from a stalker. ("To paraphrase a friend of mine, you should beware freaks bearing gifts.") Obviously, the sexual tension between the two of them is a key part of the series, but this is the first time -- and definitely not the last -- that we've seen Trevor get just a wee bit jealous about the attention Claire's getting from another man.
Before we move on to the bullet points, it's time for another installment of Rob Remembers, where "Cupid" creator Rob Thomas (who, before the writers strike began, was working on a an updated version of the series for ABC, which will hopefully still get made whenever the strike ends) shares some behind-the-scenes thoughts on how these episodes came together:
"A Truly Fractured Fairy Tale" was written by a freelance writer. The Writers Guild requires that two scripts a year are farmed out to writers not on staff. What typically happens in these situations is that the episode is largely re-written by the showrunners. In this particular case, I know that Reno and Osborne did a pretty extensive pass on the script.Some other thoughts on "A Truly Fractured Fairy Tale":
Interestingly, the new Cupid pilot I'm writing, posits the same question as this particular episode of Cupid. Can we fall in love with someone who we've barely met? In the new pilot, Trevor's answer is absolutely yes. Claire, naturally, has grave doubts.
I was never fully invested in the notion of this Zeus character. I think Ron and Jeff had an idea for where they wanted to take the character, but once I was handed the reigns of the show, we never saw him again. Zeus is a Greek god. Cupid is a Roman god. Technically, the character should've been called "Jupiter."
The network was never thrilled with episodes in which the two anthological characters didn't get together, but I thought it was important to include these episodes from time to time, so that the audience couldn't predict every outcome. It was also important to me that Claire was "right" her fair share of the time.
I believe it was also supposed to be our fifth episodes, but it got pushed up by one episode, because of production complications on "First Loves" which was actually written before it.
-Though Trevor takes a bit of a backseat to Claire in this one, he has the usual choice one-liners. My favorites: when Claire worries that Scott might hurt Valerie, Trevor says, "He promised no more enslaving women and sticking them in foreign ports," and, after an especially wordy Claire line, "Is it true what you can tell about a woman by the length of her sentences?"
-Another thing not helping the episode is a particularly extraneous Champ story where he gives up his artistic integrity for a lucrative pants modeling contract, only to be betrayed in the end when the ad execs decide to build the campaign around a hot blonde instead of him. Outside of him trying to defend commercials as "like 60-second plays" and saying of the Maytag repair man, "Tell me he doesn't evoke a Samuel Beckett-like pathos," it's another strained attempt to give the third castmember something to do. Things improve significantly, Champ-wise, starting with the next episode, "First Loves."
-I was in my early 20s when this show was on the air, and it makes me irrationally happy to hear songs that I was addicted to at the time -- in this case, Barenaked Ladies' "One Week" over the montage of Trevor and Champ visiting modeling cattle calls looking for Scott.
-A random story about Robert Mailhouse that's unconnected to the episode but always amuses me: a while back, he was on an NBC midseason replacement sitcom called "Battery Park," an attempt at a 21st century "Barney Miller." The critics were so unenthusiastic about the show that its press tour session was filled with awkward silences as people struggled to come up with questions to ask. Finally, one critic started thumbing through the actors' bios and noticed that Mailhouse played drums in Keanu Reeves' band, Dogstar, and proceeded to ask, like, six or seven questions in a row about what it was like to be in Dogstar. After each answer, the critic paused, hoping someone else in the audience had something to ask, and when no one did, he plowed forward. It wasn't a Rule of Jay moment (named in honor of a critic who, if he asks seven or more questions at a session, guarantees the show will fail), since Jay wasn't there, but as the Dogstar questions kept coming, you could see on the faces of Mailhouse and his co-stars that they knew they were in trouble.
-An odd artistic choice at the end of this one, as the theme song plays over Claire journeying out into the park to blow bubbles. I've seen shows discover their theme song after it plays well in an early episode -- "California" in "The O.C." pilot, or "Angela's Theme" in the second episode of "Taxi" -- but I'm assuming they already had The Pretenders' "Human" lined up as their theme by the time a fourth (or in this case fifth) episode was being produced.
Coming up on Friday: "First Loves," featuring Lisa Loeb, a limo and other non-alliterative things. You can see it here, here, here, here and here.
What did everybody else think?